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Ex-DFA chief Del Rosario: Duterte foreign policy shift a ‘needless national tragedy’

Former Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario on Friday criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy to cut defense and economic ties with long-time ally, the United States, in favor of China, calling his foreign policy shift a “needless national tragedy.”

“The declared shift in foreign policy casting aside a long-time reliable ally to hastily embrace an aggressive neighbor that vehemently rejects international law is both unwise and incomprehensible,” said Del Rosario.

Del Rosario, who served under former President Benigno Aquino III, spearheaded the filing of a landmark Philippine government arbitration case that challenged the validity of China's sprawling territorial claims in the South China Sea and sought to clarify the territorial entitlements of certain Chinese-occupied features under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, or UNCLOS.

The arbitration court in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s historical claim over nearly 90 percent of the waters, which straddles vital sealanes and home to rich oil and gas and mineral deposits.

“What is unfolding before us must be considered a national tragedy which does not need to happen. It is our earnest hope that this most unfortunate declaration will be corrected,” Del Rosario said in a statement.

Speaking before a business forum in Beijing as part of his four-day state visit that concluded Friday, Duterte announced on Thursday that the Philippines is separating from the US – a policy decision that casts uncertainty over future relations between the two allies.

"In this venue, your honors, I announce my separation from the United States, both in military, not maybe social, but economics also,” he told an audience of Chinese government officials and businessmen.

"America has lost now,” said the former Davao City mayor who has made public his dislike for the US, which criticized his bloody anti-illegal drugs war that left more than 2,000 drug suspects dead.

“I have realigned myself in your ideological flow, and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world, China, Philippines and Russia. It is the only way,” said Duterte.

But Del Rosario rejected Duterte’s position saying the Philippines “must be with responsible nations with whom we share our core values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

“To stand otherwise, is not what Filipinos are; it is not what we do; it is not what is right,” he noted.

Washington has played down Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric, insisting its ties with Manila remains strong.

But Duterte says he is keen on realigning ties with China and possibly with Russia – Washington’s strategic rivals.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel is visiting Manila this weekend for talks with Philippine officials as Washington tries to seek clarification on Duterte's foreign policy declarations.

Caution against fully embracing China

Gregory Poling, director of the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, cautioned Duterte against fully embracing China, which refused to honor the tribunal decision that denigrated its massive claim over the South China Sea.

“I suppose my worst fear is that President Duterte and his administration are betting everything on Chinese goodwill with no reason to believe that that goodwill exists. And that’s if he’s wrong, by the time he realizes that, he might have done untold damage to (US-Philippines) alliance,” Poling said in Manila.

Poling believes the only leverage that Manila has against China is the security umbrella provided by the United States.

“President Duterte is now betting that if he degrade relations with the US, China will offer a great deal in the West Philippine Sea. And past Chinese behavior gives no reason to believe that’s true,” Poling said. — RSJ, GMA News